CITY OF GOD
Like many gateway cities across America, the city of Lynn has an abundance of immigrant faith communities, but they often remain under the radar, and their impact is hidden. This abundance however debunks several stubborn stereotypes and myths. One is that gateway cities are only about crime, drugs and gangs (Lynn itself is known throughout New England as the “City of Sin”). The reality is, if you come to Lynn, you will find that God, faith, and church are also present in the city. A second myth is that immigrants only bring problems to an area. Immigrants, in fact, often bring a vitalized faith, a strong emphasis on family, and a desire to bless the city. A third myth is the secularization thesis prevalent in places like New England. This thesis portrays New England on the same trajectory as Europe with churches closing and religious faith dying. Not so in Lynn.
As a pastor myself, serving at Washington Street Baptist Church, a multi-ethnic church in Lynn, I am drawn to better understand, value and celebrate the role of the immigrant church in our cities. Lynn is filled with people groups from all over the world who bring their faith in God to America as they continue to worship Him in their new land. But why isn’t this spiritual story told more? In today’s political climate, many conservatives are fearful and wary of new immigrants. Progressives have been wary of the church due to past failures of leadership and hypocrisy. Immigrant churches themselves often remain insular and keep a low profile for justifiable reasons. But the result is that the role and importance of the immigrant church has been neglected in our culture. The hidden story of the immigrant church must be told to the benefit and advocacy of the immigrant church itself and also for the understanding and appreciation of the wider community.
City of God is the beginning of an ongoing documentary photography project I am undertaking. It is funded through a grant from the Louisville Institute’s Pastoral Study Project and includes an advisory group of faith leaders from Lynn. Several portfolios are in development including “Immigrant Church” which catalogs the architecture of various congregations in the city and “Evidence of Faith” which documents an everyday, lived faith you can find all around Lynn. This Atelier 35 project highlights photographs from both portfolios. As the project unfolds, new photographs will be posted on www.peterbalentine.com/cityofgod each week, along with blog posts containing key learnings, book reviews, organizational spotlights, etc. You can also follow the project on Instagram or Facebook.
Peter Balentine is a pastor and photographer who lives in the city of Lynn, MA. Peter speaks weekly at his church, often using visual images as metaphors to help illustrate spiritual concepts and insights. His photography seeks to build bridges between the worlds of faith and art, and especially celebrates the variety of people and cultures on this earth.
Peter has studied at the New England School of Photography, Massachusetts College of Art, and Griffin Atelier, and is a member of the Lynn Arts Association, the Griffin Museum of Photography, Social Documentary Network, and Christians in the Visual Arts. He has exhibited at GALA (Galleries of Lynn Arts), Griffin Museum of Photography, Newburyport Art Association, Social Documentary Network (online), and Outdoor Sculptures at Maudsley in Newburyport, MA.